LONDON, December 17 (Reuters) – Orchids aren’t often called ugly, but this is how the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, London, described a new species of normally vibrant and delicate flower discovered in the forests of Madagascar.
Gastrodia agnicellus, one of 156 plants and fungal species named by Kew scientists and their partners around the world in 2020, has been crowned ‘the ugliest orchid in the world’.
“This orchid’s 11mm flowers are small, brown, and rather ugly,” Kew said in his list of the top 10 finds of the year. The orchid depends on fungi for its nutrition and does not have leaves or other photosynthetic tissue.
Although assessed as an endangered species, the plants enjoy some protection because they are located in a national park.
Other officially named discoveries this year included six new species of toadstool mushrooms in the UK and a strange shrub encountered in southern Namibia in 2010.
Botanist Wessel Swanepoel couldn’t place the shrub in a known genus and neither could anyone else, so Swanepoel called in molecular expert from Kew Felix Forest and his team for analysis.
The result was that it was not just a new species, but a new genus and a new family, called Tiganophyton karasense.
While around 2,000 plants are named new to science each year, new families are only released about once a year.
The shrub has bizarre scaly leaves and grows in extremely hot natural salt marshes, hence its name Tiganophyton, derived from the Latin “Tigani”, or “pan”, and “Phyton”, or “plant”.
Martin Cheek, senior research manager at Kew, praised the latest natural findings.
“Some could provide vital income to communities while others could have the potential to become a future food or medicine,” he said.
But he warned: “The grim reality that awaits us cannot be underestimated. With two in five plants threatened with extinction, it’s a race against time to find, identify, name and conserve plants before they become extinct.
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White)
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[This article may have been written with information from various sources.]